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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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Dubuque Female College and later Our Lady of Lourdes

DUBUQUE FEMALE COLLEGE. Located at the corner of Iowa and Seventeenth STREETS, the school history began in the 1850s with the appointment of a man named named Lee as the Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Iowa. In visiting Dubuque, he found many parents eager to expand the educational opportunities of their children--especially their daughters. At that time, there was no regular public school system in the city and private schools had been short-lived. (1)

Speaking to a large gathering at the Globe Hall, Catherine Beecher, a proponent of woman suffrage and a sister of the famed Henry Ward Beecher, offered to endow a professorship with $20,000, four teachers, and $1,000 in equipment and books if the City of Dubuque would construct a nonsectarian school and guarantee a given number of students. Land and several thousand dollars for the school were donated by Lucius Hart LANGWORTHY. (2) Funds were also collected by Bishop Lee from among his eastern friends. (3)

As the construction was progressing, the school's first session was held in the Centenary Methodist Church at the northwest corner of 7th and Locust. The education provided to students training to be teachers or homemakers was in literary and scientific areas with an emphasis on morality.

The building the City erected by 1854 was a forty-room Byzantine-style architectural curiosity with turrets and onion-shaped domes. The school contained forty large rooms with ceilings nearly twice the height of a modern room. Rules at the college were strict. Girls were to dress in drab-colored clothes with at least seven layers of petticoats. They were further instructed not to leave anything in the school corridors that might damage their character and to avoid rustling their skirts.

The school began as a success with many local students and "boarder pupils" who lived at the school because their homes were at some distance. Bishop Perry, who replaced Bishop Lee, was not pleased that there were not enough "day pupils" to keep the school self-supporting. (4)

Enrollment by 1859 was too small to support the school, and the building was put up for sale. The public school system used the building that year as the high school and agreed to purchase the building. There were 110 students enrolled, but the school lasted only one year because not enough tax money was collected to keep it open.

In 1872 Presbyterians bought the building for $10,000 and opened the German Presbyterian Theological Seminary of the Northwest. The seminary remained in the building until 1907 when it became part of the UNIVERSITY OF DUBUQUE and relocated to University Avenue. (5)

The University of Dubuque sold the building to the Sisters of St. Francis. They opened the Academy of the Immaculate Conception for eighth through twelfth grade grades until 1925 when the school was moved to 903 Davis. The building remained open as Our Lady of Lourdes, a home for working girls, and a Conservatory of Music.

From 1954 to 1970 the former college was used as a home for the aged named LADY OF LOURDES CONVALESCENT HOME INC. (6)

The DUBUQUE GIRLS' CLUB was established there in 1975. The building was offered free to local civic groups wishing to use it and to girls 6-18 years of age as a play to play and learn. In 1981 the United Way, of which the club was a part, suggested that the group move because of high heating costs in the winter. In July 1981 the Girls' Club moved to 1810 Central. (7)

The building remained vacant until 1983 when it was purchased by the POWER OF PRAYER INC. (8)



1. "Established Here by Episcopal Bishop," Telegraph-Herald, July 28, 1940, p. 17

2. Gibson, Michael D. "Dubuque's First Family: The Langworthys," Julien's Journal, July 2013, p. 47

3. "Established Here..."

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Kruse, Len, My Old Dubuque, "That Old Brick Fortress at 75 W. 17th," Dubuque, Iowa: Center for Dubuque History-Loras College, 2000, p. 282-285

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.